-- This one seemed like old times.
Like, oh, about a month or so ago.
The Florida Gators had that dominant midseason look about them Friday, which was a welcome sight considering this was the postseason. And just like the Gators did in pounding a run of Southeastern Conference foes into submission in January and most of February, they shot, rebounded and defended the daylights out of LSU in a 80-58 third-round victory of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
"Give our guys credit," UF coach Billy Donovan said. "They came out focused and ready to play."
Senior forward Erik Murphy scored a career-high 27 points and equaled his rebounding best by grabbing 12 boards -- his second double-double in as many games -- and fueled the 13th-ranked and top-seeded Gators to their most complete and impressive performance in seven games.
Murphy was one of four UF players in double figures, followed by junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin's 16 points, freshman guard Michael Frazier's 11 points and five rebounds off the bench, plus Patric Young 10 points and six rebounds.
"Today we clicked, offensively and defensively," said Murphy, who became the 48th player in UF history to reach 1,000 points for his career. "I think we can do it all the time if we focus, play together and play the right way."
Led by Murphy's 11-for-15 shooting from the floor, plus 5-for-7 from 3-point range, UF hit 51 percent of its shots, 55 percent of its 3s and matched that offense by holding the Tigers (19-12, 9-9) to 33 percent shooting, their third-lowest point total of the season and dominated the rebounding column 47-27.
"As a team, we knew we needed to come out and prove ourselves again," said senior guard Kenny Boynton, who struggled to score (1-for-7 from the floor) but finished with a team-best seven assists. "We had a stretch late in the season where we lost three road games. Now we have to create our identity again."
If the Gators (25-6) could tag a conference tournament championship on top of the regular-season one they claimed, it would do wonders for their identity; and confidence. They need two more games for that tourney title, though, starting with Saturday's semifinal against fourth-seeded Alabama (21-11), a 58-48 winner over fifth-seed Tennessee. The Gators defeated the Crimson Tide 64-52 on March 2 at Gainesville.
Not since winning 83-52 at Auburn on Feb. 16 -- a run of seven games -- had Florida hit the 80-point mark. The Gators, who led by 35 with just under nine minutes to go, likely would have topped its season-high point total (84) had Donovan not started emptying his bench around the five-minute mark.
No UF starter played more than 27 minutes, leaving the players fresher for the quick turn-around against the Crimson Tide.
"They played their best basketball today," Tigers guard Charles Carmouche said after pacing LSU with 14 points. "When playing a team like this, you can't have setbacks."
Florida didn't give much wiggle room, either.
Murphy was on from opening tip, scoring seven of UF's first 11 points, and quickly easing any concerns about the knee bruise that forced him from practice Wednesday. X-rays and MRI were negative.
"It was good to have him not miss any games," senior guard Mike Rosario said.
Or shots, for that matter.
The game was tight through 10 minutes, the Gators up just 18-17, when Florida took off on a 12-2 run, with Wilbekin and Murphy each hitting 3s, for a double-digit cushion.
When Frazier bombed a 25-footer at the buzzer to end the half, the Gators had a 15-point lead and Murphy (15 points, 9 rebounds) nearly had his double-double.
The second half started with two free throws for Young, one free throw from LSU, and a 3-pointer and driving floater from Murphy. Just like that, UF's lead was 21.
LSU managed just seven field goals (on 27 attempts) in the second half.
"Florida is one of the better defensive teams in the country," Tigers coach Johnny Jones said.
About six weeks ago, the Gators were playing like the best team in the country. Period. Then came that six-game lull of fewer points (only 62.5 per game) and losses at Arkansas, Missouri and Kentucky.
They came to the Music City with hopes of getting back in tune and rhythm with the way things were before.
"This was definitely a step in the right direction," Young said. "We did a better job minimizing those times in the game where we have slippage."
In the locker room after the game, Donovan congratulated his players, but his first reference to their performance was to the nine turnovers on the final 15 possessions.
"Can't have that guys," he said. "We gotta clean that up."
Much, much better.
Far from satisfied.
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